In perhaps the least-expected development in the history of automobiles, Ford announced today that the next-generation of the ultra-popular F-150 truck, due for the 2015 model year, will use a unibody architecture instead of a ladder-frame one and be made out of aluminum instead of steel. This would mean that the brawny truck would have more in common with the slow-selling Honda Ridgeline than its traditional rivals, the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Ram 1500.

Ford said that despite the sudden architecture change, the 2015 F-150 will retain much of the styling of the Atlas concept shown at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. A source at Ford told us that the Atlas, a brawny-looking, steel-bodied truck, was never meant to preview the next-generation F-150, only the styling of it, and that it was built using the current F-150's construction to save cost and conserve resources.

Additionally, our source reported that V-8 engines and a Raptor model have been ruled out. "The EcoBoost V-6 has proven that V-8s are an unnecessary relic, so the ability to fit a V-8 was taken out late in development," said our source. As for the Raptor, our source told us that "We were going to do one with a high-power EcoBoost V-6 good for about 500 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, but our lawyers advised us that the potential liability cost was far too high, citing specifically the video of a Raptor being totaled after a jump that came out in early February. Yes, the final call was made that recently." Ford spokesman Mike Levine was unavailable for comment.

Despite the jarring change in construction, Ford says that the 2015 F-150 will still retain the wide variety of configurations that the truck is famous for thanks to a number of manufacturing advances. The unibody was designed from the get-go to support multiple wheelbases, lengths, and cab configurations while new software for assembly-line robots allows them to rapidly switch from one pre-programmed configuration to another at the push of a button -- or by going off a pre-programmed list.

The use of aluminum will certainly reduce weight by several hundred pounds. We'll hazard a guess that 2015 F-150 weights will range from under 4500 lbs for regular cab models to under 5500 lbs for the biggest SuperCrews, depending on configuration, for the 2015 F-150. The current F-150, for comparison, tops out at 6145 lbs for a Harley-Davidson Edition SuperCrew. Fuel economy should increase as well. Ford is likely aiming past 25 mpg for naturally aspirated models in order to one-up the 2013 Ram 1500.

Of course, unibody construction will reduce capability considerably. Currently, the F-150 carries a payload rating between 2310 and 3120 pounds. Expect about 1500 lbs for 2015 SuperCrew models and 2500 lbs for regular cab ones. Towing will suffer as well, with the minimum likely dropping to 3500 lbs and the maximum dropping to 7500 lbs, if not lower.

As for why the reasoning behind the construction switch, Ford said that "a unibody architecture enables us to better engineer the trucks to suit the demands of today's truck buyers, who expect greater on-road comfort, a quieter cabin, and better fuel economy. Today's buyers are also less concerned with traditional details like payload and tow ratings and are less likely to use their trucks to haul or tow."

Though Ford is no stranger to unconventional trucks, having been building the Falcon Ute in Australia for decades and offering the Ranchero until 1979, the 2015 F-150 will be the first time the Blue Oval offers a true unibody truck in the U.S.

What do you think: is Ford right to make the change, have the people in Dearborn completely lost the plot, or is this simply an elaborate April Fool's joke?